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Venture Outdoors in Orlando: Where to Scout for Flora, Fauna and Fun Things To Do

Plan a “shoulder season” trip and see the best nature parks in Orlando, Florida

The Vacationeer
Sunset over marshland near Central Florida

Attention nature lovers: Orlando is a terrific destination to explore the region's amazing wetlands and wildlife refuges. With room to safely explore, let enthusiastic kids expend energy outside and pursue physically stimulating activities like hiking, biking and horseback riding. Or take a peaceful escape and refresh away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Consider planning your next Orlando escape in-between peak seasons, also known as "shoulder season." Shoulder season travel means fewer crowds and fairer temperatures. Enjoy these Orlando nature parks during the off-season to best experience Central Florida’s natural beauty.

Quick Trips Within Orange County

Here are three picturesque options if you're looking for a quick trip (under 30 minutes) from Orlando.

A sunny view of Florida wetlands 

Greenwood Urban Wetlands

This beautiful urban greenspace is one of the few wetlands where you can bring the whole family for a gentle stroll — or roll, if you prefer bikes. Soak up the scenery of the lake and its colorful variety of ducks, cranes and herons.

The lakeside is a great place to spot wading birds and turtles popping up for a sunbath, along with elusive otters. Stop at benches to rest and survey the scene for birds of prey scouting the water for a meal. Bring a picnic to snack on while you embrace the quiet, restful shade of the old trees – tables scattered under them provide the perfect place to enjoy it.

Stay: Set up your home-away-from-home at Las Palmeras, a Hilton Grand Vacations Club, for a beautiful resort with plenty of water features to enjoy. Read why one Owner can’t get enough of this beautiful Orlando resort.

Sunset at Hal Scott Preserve and Park, a woodlands park near the Econolockhatchee River and Orlando, Florida 

Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park

Filled with longleaf pine flatwoods and live oak forests, this park is within a few miles of the Orlando International Airport — although it doesn't feel like it. The park is named for a former high-ranking member of the Florida Audubon Society and is managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District. Hal Scott is home to red-cockaded woodpeckers that carve out homes in the pine trees.

Because the preserve's 9,515 acres also include the Econlockhatchee River to the east, it's possible to see river otters playing, bobcats fishing and bald eagles hunting from above. Other species to watch for include dramatically loud and large sandhill cranes (often walking around in pairs or small family groups), eastern indigo snakes and protected gopher tortoises.

Interconnected, looping trails provide an idyllic backdrop for hiking, biking and horseback riding. You can also launch a boat and fish in this preserve, and treasure hunters can use a GPS device or smartphone to search for a hidden geocaches.

Stay: Drop your bags off at Mystic Dunes, a Hilton Vacation Club, for even more outdoor activities, including golf, tennis and swimming. When it’s time to refuel, check out the best Orlando eats according to local foodies, and taste all that the city offers.

Field of wild yellow sunflowers in full bloom in the Central Florida woodlands of Lake Jesup, near Orlando, Florida 

Tibet-Butler Preserve

This popular educational preserve is open for hiking on 3.6 miles of trails over boardwalks and beaches. (Note that Palmetto Passage, the most challenging trail, is frequently closed due to flooding.)

This 438-acre park is ideal for families who want to add an afternoon adventure to a morning of theme park fun. The Vera Carter Environmental Center’s exhibits show you how to identify local fauna like osprey and owls, and different ecosystems like longleaf pine forests, scrub forests, marshes and bayhead swamps. A wheelchair-accessible sandbox and butterfly garden are also available at the center.

Stay: Book your stay at Parc Soleil, a Hilton Grand Vacations Club, for a resort close to all the action, and experience Orlando like a local with this three-day itinerary.

Longer Drives for Day Trips

If you're looking to make a day of it, here are a few trips within a 1-hour drive from Hilton Grand Vacations’ Orlando properties.

Two sandhill cranes with two chicks 

Split Oak Forest Mitigation Park

Named for a live oak that's survived for at least two centuries — despite being split down the middle by lightning — this park is a stop on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. The trail is famous for bird watching and wildlife viewing.

Enjoy more than nine miles of hiking trails and boardwalks — some as short as the 0.8-mile Swamp Trail, others as long as the 5.3-mile North/South Trail. Along the way, try and spot protected populations of gopher tortoises, Sherman's fox squirrel and sandhill cranes. The park is also known for box turtles, the eastern indigo snake, the eastern coachwhip snake, red and gray foxes, white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.

The morning and late afternoon are peak opportunities to spot wading birds from the overlooks. Check iNaturalist and eBird for the species and add your own observations and pictures. Horseback riding is also permitted if you want to saddle up.

Stay: Kick back and relax at Tuscany Village, a Hilton Grand Vacations Club, and have even more off-season fun at a theme park festival.  

A view from a boardwalk observation deck over a lake in Central Florida, near Kissimmee 

Lake Lizzie Nature Preserve

Best for a back-to-nature day trip, this 1,076-acre preserve is triangulated on Lake Lizzie, Bay Lake and Trout Lake in the Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. The region includes everything from lakes and freshwater marsh to endangered habitats like sand pine scrub and xeric oak scrub. With 11 miles of hiking trails, nine miles of equestrian trails and seven different ecosystems to explore, there’s plenty to see and do.

Visitors most notably spot gopher tortoises, white-tailed deer, red-shouldered hawks, barred owls, sandhill cranes, osprey, limpkins, great blue herons, Sherman's fox squirrels and wood storks, but that's just the beginning. Plant enthusiasts also report a great range of rare vegetation, including certain kinds of moss, holly and ferns.

Stay: Meet at SeaWorld® Orlando, a Hilton Grand Vacations Club, for your next multigenerational vacation and quick access to more amazing animals at SeaWorld® Orlando.

Read “Family, Friends and Flexibility: Why One Couple Chose Hilton Grand Vacations Timeshare,” and see how you can use vacation ownership to bring your loved ones together.

 

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The Vacationeer

The Vacationeer is a collective of Hilton Grand Vacations storytellers whose goal is to inspire travelers to go further. We're always on the lookout for new destinations to explore, useful travel tips, and unique ideas to help you plan the most memorable vacations possible.

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